WORDS BY LANDON PEOPLES
A new skatepark on Navajo lands exemplifies how interwoven access and community are to the climate movement. And how the simple joys—like skateboarding—can’t be left behind in the fight for equality and climate justice.
At the heart of the climate movement lies a virtue that all generations of activists can relate to: break cycles of the past and reinvent tradition as we know it. It’s the rallying cry behind the idea that small, individual action can lead to global change. It’s what inspired sustainable fashion label Orenda Tribe founder Amy Denet Deal (Yeung) to partner with nonprofit Wonders around the World to build a skatepark on Navajo Nation lands—not just to make skateboarding more accessible to underrepresented communities, but as an investment in future generations of Diné youth.
In the spring of last year, Deal (Yeung) was working with WAW and the Inspiring Children Foundation on putting a fundraising event together to secure backing for a skatepark in the Two Grey Hills Chapter community in Toadlena, New Mexico on Navajo land. Then the coronavirus hit and fundraising was put on hold. “We immediately recognized that you cannot start a project centered around social gathering during a pandemic,” Deal (Yeung) tells Atmos. “We also felt the immediate impact of COVID-19 quickly. The Navajo tribe was disproportionately impacted by the virus early on, so we spent all of 2020 helping with mutual aid, fundraising, delivering PPE, food, supplies, and firewood.”
A year later, pandemic withstanding, Deal (Yeung) was able to turn the event into a livestream of performances from Jewel & Nehîyaw, Salish artist Tia Wood, skateboarder Tony Hawk, Diné skater and weaver Naiomi Glasses, and speakers from the community to talk about how transformative skateboarding is for youth in their tribes. Set to be completed by the end of the year, the skatepark is “a project of love for the community of Toadlena” (Tóhaaliní or “where the water flows out”) located in the Two Grey Hills chapter of the Navajo Nation, a remote community nestled in the Chuska Mountains that has no other outdoor sport recreational facilities.
The Navajo Nation encompasses 27,000 square miles over three states. Many communities live in remote areas and lack access to community sport facilities. A skate park built, according to Yeung, would connect smaller communities in the region. “These regions are often overlooked. And because of the size and scope of the landscape, they just don’t realize that driving two hours to skate for an hour is not reasonable,” she says. Next year, seeds will be planted around the park to expand the space with a community garden practicing traditional agriculture and harvesting to promote food sovereignty and reintroduce ancestral crops for the community.
“Skateboarding is an empowering sport. It’s a year-round activity to [stay] mentally and physically strong and allows [people] a way to express themselves. It’s an activity that brings all types of people together, regardless of other personal interests.” Though it’s not the first skatepark to be built on Native lands, its placement in such a remote area should help to bring a sense of something closer to home. “Kids that live on the remote Rez should have the same opportunities as kids in urban areas. It’s about being inclusive.”
For Yeung, who founded her fashion label Orenda Tribe in 2018, the brand is an example of how people can look to fashion brands to effectuate change outside of their supply chains and give back to their customer base in legitimate, lasting ways. “This is a project of love for the community. I left the fashion world to start a small business that creates upcycled, vintage, small batch, artisanal products, with a “reuse and reimagine” point of view,” she explains. As labels figure out how to partner with NGOs in ways beyond their products (e.g. more stuff), Orenda Tribe exhibits an above-and-beyond approach to a buy-one-gift-one method.
“Our profits go back into [the] community. From supporting artists to helping with mutual aid, our projects get produced and paid for by my business through product sales. We’re not in the business of creating sales just to grow our brand. We’re in the business of creating transformational wealth that will create social impact and positive change.”
In real life, skateboarding might not be the first thing that comes to mind when we think of climate justice. But the #DinéSkateGardenProject, as it’s known online, is climate action in action: an example of what happens when communities come together to effectuate their own change; a physical structure made for the people and by the people.